GRIFFITH, Ind. (AP) – Mike Chiaro can’t wait to go swimming this summer.
He hasn’t been in a pool for two years because he had a catheter in his stomach that allowed him to receive the kidney dialysis he needed to stay alive.
But he’ll be able to dive in this summer thanks to a program that enabled his wife, who was willing to give him a kidney but wasn’t a match, to donate an organ to another pair of family members in exchange for one for her husband.
Mike and Claudia Chiaro were part of a three-way exchange at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago recently according to The Times.
“These kidney exchanges allow people to have a successful living-donor transplant where they couldn’t before because of incompatibilities,” said Dr. John Friedewald, a transplant nephrologist at Northwestern Memorial, which has orchestrated exchanges among as many as eight pairs. “As we’ve realized this can help a lot of people out and as we’ve gotten more sophisticated with our matching programs, we’ve been able to expand this to more and more people. This is being done at individual hospitals on a national level.”
The Chiaros first learned about this possibility from their daughter’s godmother, Denae Allen-Decrescenzo, a Northwestern transplant nurse who lives in Hammond.
After Mike’s kidney failed two years ago, she encouraged them to attend a seminar at the Northwestern transplant outreach clinic in Portage.
While Claudia was willing to donate one of her kidneys to her husband he was hesitant, worrying about the potential risks to her health.
But she was determined to help him live a normal life.
They discovered that while their blood types didn’t match, there was another option: paired kidney swaps.
They entered their information into the exchange database. Four weeks ago, they got the call there was a match.
Six days after surgery, Mike said he was noticing the difference in his health already. And he’s thrilled to be off dialysis.
“It’s not something you can do in the great outdoors,” the 61-year-old said. “Now we can plan summer camping, which is going to be absolutely wonderful.”
The Chiaros have one child, a Griffith High School senior named Melissa, who they’ll now have no problem visiting once she leaves for college in the fall.
“The most important people here are the donors,” Mike said. “There’s no way I can thank this person (Linda Bond, of Chicago) in a proper way.”
The recipient of Claudia’s kidney expressed similar emotions Wednesday.
“She saved my life,” said Linda Bravo, a Chicago nurse. “She’s given me so many opportunities now. I have four children. I thought there were going to be so many milestones I wasn’t going to get to see.”
Claudia, a 60-year-old home health nurse, says she is still recovering from the procedure but hopes to return to work early next month. She wanted to tell her and Mike’s story to raise awareness of the transplant option.
“The most important thing for people to know is that if they have a loved one who needs a kidney, they don’t have to be a match,” she said. “Everyone thinks you have to be a blood relative, a sibling or something like that. You don’t have to. That’s the beauty of this paired exchange.”